While the Inter-Tribal Coalition proposal requests that the national monument designation contain provisions ensuring their access to the land, rarely does a proposal’s language transfer word for word into the president’s final proclamation. Extreme environmental groups opposed to hunting, woodcutting or other activities that “take” from the land, and who have significant influence with Obama, are likely to lobby the president to deviate from the Inter-Tribal Coalition proposal.
Even if a national monument proclamation did contain language protecting Native American access, land management practices do not always reflect federal policies. The last national monument designated in Utah illustrates this reality. When President Bill Clinton designated the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Garfield and Kane Counties, his proclamation promised residents that grazing would continue: “Nothing in this proclamation shall be deemed to affect existing permits or leases, or levels of livestock grazing on federal lands within the monument.”
Nearly 20 years later, the number of animals grazing on the monument has declined significantly. The Bureau of Land Management has revoked permits and closed much-needed rangeland. Those ranchers left in the area face an uphill battle. They can’t extend or move water lines within their allotments, fence riparian areas, maintain roads, or take other necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of their livestock. This is slowly pushing cattle off the range and ranchers off the land their families have worked for generations.
And management practices are not the only threat Native Americans will face if the Bears Ears is designated a national monument. The designation of high-acreage national monuments like the Bears Ears has become a stepping stone on the way to the creation of new national parks. This is a stepping stone that Utahns are all too familiar with: Four out of Utah’s five national parks began as national monuments designated by the U.S. president. The restrictions accompanying a national park are generally far more restrictive than those imposed after monument designations. Rock collecting, ATV riding, cutting wood, picking flowers, hunting, and primitive camping are rarely, if ever, permitted anywhere in a national park.
Given the monument-to-national-park reality and the history of federal government dishonesty and abuse toward Native Americans, it seems irresponsible to guarantee Native Americans that their traditional uses of the Bears Ears would not be restricted by a national monument designation. What guarantee is there that Obama would include their rights in his final proclamation? How do we know that tribes wouldn’t suffer the same fate as their neighbors in Kane and Garfield Counties, losing the quality and level of access to the land they have become accustomed to? What safeguards are in place to keep the area from becoming a national park that would further restrict their use of the land? The sound bites and talking points of national monument advocates ignore these questions, falling short of the elevated dialogue that addresses political realities and produces good policy.
Matt Anderson is the policy analyst for the Coalition for Self-Government in the West, a project of Sutherland Institute.